NASCAR Brickyard 400 preview
NASCAR heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the final race of the regular season
This week,the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for America's most famous track, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While it is one of the oldest racetracks in the world, NASCAR has only been coming here since 1994 and is one of the newer tracks on the schedule. While NASCAR's history here may not be as prestigious as IndyCar, this is still one of NASCAR's crown jewel events and winning here is a huge accomplishment for any driver. This race will also serve as the final race of NASCAR's regular season and is the last chance for any driver on the outside of the playoff picture. Over the past couple of years, this track has sort of fallen out of favor with the fans as the racing there is much more spread out compared to the other tracks on the schedule. I think this weekend will be different as NASCAR will use its new Aero package that will tighten up the field a bit. I think that this race will surprise most fans.
Last week, Erik Jones went on to claim his second career victory after holding off his teammate Kyle Busch. The race was marred by a four hour rain delay that didn't even have the race finishing until late in the evening. Overall, the race was action packed as many drivers took their turn up front but the dominant car of the day was easily Kyle Busch. The 2015 cup champion led a race high 118 laps but after smashing into the wall with three laps to go, his chance of claiming his first Southern 500 went out the window. Incredibly, he was still able to limp home third. In his post race interview, Kyle was unhappy with the officials and their decision not to throw the caution after running into the wall. For some reason, I do not understand why Busch would want a caution considering the damage sustained would take him out of contention for a good finish but on the other side of the argument, I can see how it could be considered a safety issue. Regardless of the controversy, the win comes as a huge relief for Busch's race team as Joe Gibbs and his super-team have now had all four cars go on to win a race in 2019 and easily come into the playoffs as the team to beat.
While Jones and his team were celebrating, others drives like Jimmie Johnson were stewing in defeat as their results were not enough to get them over the cutoff line. Throughout most of the race, Johnson had a car that was capable of running in the top five and possibly could have mixed it up for the win but a late race incident took him out of contention. Overall, it was definitely a missed opportunity for the seven-time champion as he now sits 18 points below the cut-line and now Johnson is nearly in a must win situation to make the playoffs. This is uncharted waters for him as he has never missed NASCAR's version of the postseason ever since it was started back in 2004. It will be very interesting to see what tricks the 48 team can pull out of their sleeves to make the playoffs. With playoff berths clinched by drivers Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola the focus shifts to who will occupy the final two spots. Currently, Clint Bowyer sits 15th in points eight points ahead of both Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez who are tied for the final spots. All three of these drivers have shown speed all season and definitely make a strong case to be in the playoffs and with there only being ten winners this season, it is safe to say at least two of these drivers have a good shot of making it. If I had to say who I think these two drivers will be, I would say it would be Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman. Overall, I think both of these drivers will have good runs this week especially considering Ryan Newman has won here back in 2013, and Clint Bowyer is coming off back to back top ten finishes at Bristol and Darlington. It should be a fun battle to see who is able to punch their tickets to NASCAR's postseason.
The favorite coming into this race has to be defending winner Brad Keselowski. This season has been phenomenal for Brad and his team as they have won three races this season. Over the past two races at this track, Brad has really ramped up his results here as he finished second and first respectably. I expect him to be the car to beat as he goes for back to back victories at the brickyard.
The driver that I think will go to victory lane this week is Jimmie Johnson. Like I have mentioned many times, this season has been Johnson's most disappointing both statistically and mentally. Not only has he failed to win a race since 2017, he has struggled to even find the top five as he only has three top five finishes. There has been a certain amount of dysfunction that NASCAR fans are not accustomed to seeing from him and this team as he has now gone through two crew-chiefs since parting ways with Chad Knaus. Many wonder if these struggles have become too much for the legendary driver as some believe he may never win again but after watching how good he was last week, I believe that Johnson will not only win again but he will do it this week when he needs to the most. As I wrote earlier, Johnson will either need to run up front all day and collect a good amount of stage points or he will need a win to make NASCAR's version of the postseason and what better place to do it then Indy? Overall, there is no active driver that has more wins at this track than Johnson as has won here four times. Not many people can say that they have won here at this track four times in any form of Motorsports let alone NASCAR. This week, I predict that the stars will align for him and he will claim his 84th career victory in what could be the most important race of not only his season but of his career. Look for Johnson to prove his doubters wrong come Sunday afternoon as he gets his team back to the winner's circle.
(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).